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Another odorous anecdote from the Qing dynasty


A chamber pot is commonly called a “pony”. Its original name was “little tiger”. With “tiger” being a taboo word,[1] people of the Tang dynasty changed the name to “pony”; see Yunlu manchao.[2] Yet the Tongya[3] states that: “A ‘little beast’ refers to the chamber pot. Some use bronze to make it in the shape of a horse, which is convenient for riding and urinating. The name ‘pony’ probably originated from this.”


It is also commonly known as a “horse bucket”, which originated in the Song dynasty. The Menglianglu[4] says: “The city of Hang[zhou] is densely populated. Most ordinary households do not have any toilet pit and simply use horse buckets.” Southerners do not have a privy {bathroom}. Both men and women use horse buckets, which are made of wood and coated with lacquer. The content, namely the urine and excrement, is emptied the next day. This bucket is put in a corner of the room. Although it has a lid, the stink is often inevitable, for the odour is deeply soaked into the grain of the wood.


Jin Qizhong, concerned about this, learned that Western buckets are made of iron with porcelain glazing, which must be cleaner than the wooden ones, for the former has no grain into which the filth can soak. It is commonly called the “foreign porcelain horse bucket”. He then bought one and used it. However, the man in charge of emptying the bucket only came over the next day, making it impossible to empty it after every discharge as Westerners do. The horrible stink in the room got even worse to the point that [he] could not even come close [to it].


One day, [he] finally thought it through and told his friend Xu Zongda, [courtesy name] Boying, Salt Transport Commissioner of Longnan: “Using a foreign porcelain horse bucket was a reform of mine. However, everything else remained unchanged. As a result, it didn’t really fit well and was not suitable for use. Alas! One cannot implement reform by [changing] insignificant details. Changing A without changing B will only manifest its harm, not its advantages. Its harm sometimes gets even worse!” Boying could not agree more. From then on, Qizhong did not dare to talk about reform lightly.

* An anecdote from Xu Ke 徐珂 (1869-1928) ed., Qingbai leichao 清稗類鈔 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2010), vol. 4, 1676-77.

[1] The character hu 虎 (tiger) was taboo as it was the given name of the grandfather of Li Yuan 李淵 (566-635, ruling 618-626), the founding emperor of the Tang dynasty. [2] The Yunlu mangchao is a collection of anecdotes compiled by Zhao Yanwei 趙彥衛 (fl. 12th century). [3] The Tongya is a collection of scholarly notes on lexical issues by Fang Yizhi 方以智 (1611-1671). [4] The Menglianglu is Wu Zimu’s 吳自牧 (fl. 13the century) memoir of Hangzhou, the capital city of the Southern Song (1127-1279).

Some objects identified as early huzi 虎子 ("little tiger"), presumably used as portable urinals.

A bronze "little tiger" inlaid with gold and silver from late Warring States period (475/403-221 BCE)

Picture credit: Palace Museum, Beijing (

A porcelain "little tiger" from the Western Jin (266-316)

Picture credit: Shanghai Musem

A bronze "little beast" from the Han dynasty (202 BCE - 220 CE), with a removable head

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei


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